A letter to a "care" team

(Published with the consent of the subject of the letter)

To whom it may concern,

I am writing this letter with anger in my heart. This may dissuade you from reading on, but it is a necessary disclosure. I am writing on behalf of a friend who is incapacitated by pain she suffered at the hands of your “care” team. I emphasize care here as it will become evident that the services she received were devoid of it.

Today, my friend had a surgical abortion. As you are aware, the decision to terminate a pregnancy is not an easy one. Our culture’s dominant narrative has saturated the experience with stigma and shame. So much so, that it is in and of itself a traumatizing experience to many. As such, the spaces that provide reproductive healthcare are expected to be safe, compassionate, and respectful. They are not, however, meant to cause nor exacerbate trauma/ harm. Unfortunately, that is what happened today (October 12, 2018). My friend (who will remain unnamed) went in expecting a “consciously sedated” surgical abortion. She was assured the procedure would not be painful. When she communicated to her care team that she was in pain, nothing was done to manage it. The attitudes of the team were dismissive, and unacceptable.

Today, my friend came to me and said: “I feel fucking traumatized”. Let that sink in. That’s not what you should be providing. She told me: “I felt I was in good hands. I was begging to get a stronger dose of the sedation and they just said it’s almost done. It was so painful. Every minute of it. I walked out sober and crying.”

Today, my friend gave her trust to a team of professionals at an exceedingly vulnerable time, only to be told that she should just hang tight and deal with the pain. Deplorable.

Today, my friend was scared as she entrusted her body and wellbeing to people who had implicitly promised to do their best, only to not be listened to when she said she was in pain. Cruel.

An abortion is a decision we live with for our lives. It is not an isolated event. As such, it is expected that Reproductive Health Providers help ease the weight of making and pursuing the decision to terminate a pregnancy.

Today, as my friend left the room she saw another woman waiting. She told me: “I wanted to warn her.” She overheard the team preparing the woman. She told me: “I felt really bad that someone else was about to go through it.” She bore the weight of the decision, the pain of the procedure, and the burden of wanting to warn the next person awaiting this life-altering procedure.

Today, is a day my friend will never forget. The pain seared into her memory, by you.

You failed. Do better.


A concerned friend; woman; activist.

I made the choice... twice

Trigger warning: intimate partner abuse

I was sixteen. Sixteen when I found out I was pregnant. I still had my provisional drivers license. I couldn’t rent a car. I couldn’t vote. I couldn’t smoke a cigarette. I couldn’t drink a beer. But now I was going to be a parent. 

All that aside I was stuck. Stuck in an abusive relationship with a man who would call me fat just to see me cry, and turn around and call me a boney toothpick when he saw a curvy woman. Verbal abuse. I didn’t even know what those words meant when I was 16. All I knew was I was pregnant and he made me cry every night. 

I remember going for the consultation for my abortion. They asked me many questions and that’s when it hit me. I never missed a pill. Not one single pill. Yet, I was pregnant. I went home to my boyfriend after my initial consult for the abortion. He laughed at me when I brought up my birth control. He said “you idiot I took your pills all the time.” Meaning he threw one out here and there. I was shocked, devastated, I felt betrayed. 

Ultimately, I terminated my pregnancy with a medical abortion at 9 weeks. I saw that baby on the screen the day before. Planned parenthood was amazing. They never turned the screen towards me. But when they left the room, I looked. I saw the shape, the small arm buds, everything. But still the following day I had the abortion. 

I wish the story ended there. I left the man that abused me verbally and occasionally physically. But my self esteem was so low. I was a scared, confused girl and I took him back after he promised things would be different. 

This time I wasn’t careful. He didn’t have to compromise my birth control because I did it to myself. I never regretted my first abortion. I regretted going back to that man and I coped by neglecting myself. Something I only realize now, 6 years later. 

Three months passed and after a particularly bad fight I went to stay at my mom’s. I told her I was feeling sick and I went and got a test. The lines showed up immediately. I wish I could explain the emotions I felt that day, seeing those lines. But I can’t. 

I told my boyfriend. He was overjoyed, as he had been before. He won. He had me. For life. I pretended things were good. I felt I didn’t have a choice; I couldn’t possibly have another abortion. One night, I discovered he had been cheating on me with 3 women the entire year and a half of our relationship. 

Yelling turned to name calling. And when that wasn’t enough of an impact on me, he pushed me down 3 flights of stairs. 

Enough was enough. I moved home. He called me multiple times a day. He said “think of Carter.” The name we had picked when I was pretending things were good and I was happy with the pregnancy. 

I had my second abortion, this time the pill at 8 weeks. I felt free. I look back on it now and there is not one single regret. I do not miss what could have been. Because I know what could have been would have been hell. 

I became a mother 2 years ago. With the man I love by my side. We welcomed a beautiful baby girl into the world. I know now she would never have been here if I hadn’t made the decisions I made. 

I will never regret my decision to be able to have 2 safe legal abortions. And that is a feeling no one can take away from me, ever. 

Clothed in strength and dignity

I am 51 and have had three . Many would probably think I used it as a form of birth control , but two of the three pregnancies occurred while on the pill. I was just so grateful I had options.  I grew up in a strict Catholic household, and the ability to freely share my experiences was thwarted as a result of that focus.  I went to Catholic school even through college, and my Catholic friends were the women I knew who were more likely to have an abortion, ironically . They often felt that they would have been as equally maligned for having had sex while unmarried so they needed to end the pregnancy. 

I now have two daughters and I chose to allow them to explore religion on their own terms as opposed to strong arming them into any organization, primarily because of the guilt the church imposed directly or indirectly on me for my legal choice . I remember hearing the line “ain’t no angels gonna greet me “ from a Springsteen song about people with AIDS and thinking that was my fate as well. I was doomed to hell . But the alternative seemed so much worse .

Thirty years later , I’ve become a fervent advocate of Planned Parenthood (PP) and reproductive freedom . I’ve done everything possible to instill that message to my daughters and now as young adults they donate money and time to pro-choice political candidates as well as to PP. It’s very important that pro choice women take control of not only our bodies, but of the spin that anti choice politicians and religious figures have put on a medical procedure that has huge consequences for women’s freedom .

We should not be vilified or stigmatized because of our decision - I know that mine were the right ones - and if there are angels, I’m also pretty sure they will be there to greet us, too.

A lesbian in Italy: a story less known

My story is a little different. I think perhaps that is why I have not told anyone in the three years since my abortion. The stigma I feel is tied to my privilege.

Girls of my privileged upbringing and 'bright future' don't get abortions, because they're smart - they don't get pregnant. 

Girls of my privileged upbringing who live in an expensive neighbourhood, with double University degrees, awards and high school prefect-status littering our CVs, aren't gay. These types of girls tease other girls and spread rumours at their all-girls high school - that's the only time they ever dare utter the word Lesbian.

But I did, and I am.

After graduation, I traveled with my girlfriend for 10 days before we broke up. It was traumatic, but I continued my travels. Although my head was a mess and my heart was in shreds, I was making friends with fellow hostel-goers and the endless nights of wine and strangers were a welcome escape. 

In a fun drunken haze of a night out, I did it, I slept with a Man. He got a room in a hotel the next morning, and all that next day in a hungover lethargy he fucked me, in between my naps of exhaustion and self-disgust. I didn't think. 

I had only had sex with a man once before.

Once I realized that I was 90% gay at age 21, I never contemplated contraception. Unlike all my friends who, in relationships or not, were on the pill since the age of 17. I was university educated, but had paid very, very little attention in health class in high school. So, after a day of unprotected sex, the Man and I went to an afterhours pharmacy to get the morning after pill (ECP). I didn't think.

In my country it is easy to obtain as an over-the-counter medicine. But I was in Italy. I didn't think. 

The Italian pharmacist sent me to an Italian doctor. The male doctor shook the Man's hand. It felt like I was a bystander to their business meeting. The doctor gave me the ECP. Almost exactly 24 hours after the first time we had sex, I swallowed the ECP and thought nothing else of it. I didn't think.

Three weeks later I was staying with extended family in the UK, and just didn't feel right. I was sleeping too much, I was exhausted, I was eating like crazy, and I felt bloated. I was pregnant. 

I tried everything - I drank wine all day, every day; I ate unpasteurised cheeses I had left unrefrigerated; I made a parsley tea; I tried a homemade a pessary (would not recommend!); I would punch my stomach, chain smoke cigarettes, intentionally try to get sick, dressing cold and eating seafood. I was so desperate. I was ready to cut myself to show just how much of a danger to my mental health it was if an abortion was not granted. 

Having been unable to get an abortion before my flight home, I spent the remaining 10 days continuing my attempt at a “natural” abortion. Once home, I felt like a naughty teenager. Living in the house of my parents, making up lies for where I was going and how long I would be away. Jetlag, the excuse for my tiredness, was wearing thin after a week and a half.

At the various preliminary appointments, the staff would smile, and ask,: “is it your first?”. I had nothing to say, so I nodded. I wanted to say, it doesn’t exist, I have no partner, I am GAY, this is all so ridiculous, it’s all a complete mix up. 

14 weeks after Italy, back in my home country, the day of my surgical abortion arrived. I have never been more excited or relieved in my life!

I woke up in the recovery room feeling groggy, confused, and relieved. I got up to go to the toilet and I fainted before I could reach the bathroom. Blood had gone through my nappy-like pad and was visible to all to see through my jeans.

With my cardigan tied around my waist, I arrived home that evening and joined in with Normal Life. We watched TV, I chatted to mum as she cooked dinner, and when it reached an acceptable hour, I took myself off to bed. Mum made a comment, why was I so tired and sleeping all the time. I said I had bad period pain, and that was that.

Relieved to have the choice

I was 19 and had become pregnant after a one night stand on a holiday I was taking with my best friend. I flew home the next day and took the morning after pill and thought no more about it, assuming I was ok.

Two weeks later I flew out to Central America to meet up with a friend and travel for the remaining summer months. I had been having awful headaches and was very tired with pelvic pain for the last fortnight, but didn’t think I was pregnant. I had been to the doctors before I flew to ask them to give me a check-up as I felt so strange. They were dismissive and told me I was just worried about the trip and to go and have a nice time. 

Whilst in Central America my symptoms continued. My period was 2 weeks late and I jokingly said to my friend that if it was any later I would be pregnant,

My period didn’t come, so I worked out how to ask for a pregnancy test in Spanish and bought one. To my complete shock it came back positive. We were in a fairly remote jungle in Costa Rica at the time and when we found a doctor I asked him what I could do. I wanted an abortion, but I was in such shock that it didn’t even cross my mind that it would of course not be even near possible out there. He just gave me my due date and offered me prenatal vitamins and said I had a kidney infection. My pelvic pain worsened and I thought that I might be having a miscarriage daily. I made the decision to go home to the UK to have an abortion, leaving my friend on her own in Nicaragua. 

I went to the hospital as soon as I returned and it turned out I had an infection in my womb as well as the foetus. I was put on medication and told to wait 2 weeks until I finished it. I didn’t enjoy being pregnant as I was sick every day so when it came to having the abortion I was so relieved that the nausea and tiredness would be stopping. I had a surgical abortion at 8 weeks, which I was able to get free on the NHS and it was very quick and well managed.

I have not once regretted or felt ashamed about having my abortion. I always knew that it was the right decision and I had so much loving support from my friends and family that I felt very safe and held throughout the process (The man I slept with knew but was out of the country so I never saw him again). The hardest physical part was travelling around and back from Central America whilst being very unwell. 

I did not, however, take into account how I would feel emotionally after the termination. I woke up feeling relieved, but also heartbroken, which surprised me. It took a year for me to come to terms with the fact that I wanted the abortion but also allowing myself to feel a loss and sadness for the pregnancy and child I could have had. I am a very maternal person and although I would consider having another abortion it does affects me in a big way emotionally.

6 years on there is no pain or sadness, just occasional reminders. Sometimes I think about how old the child would be if I had kept it but I always feel extremely grateful that I got to have a choice over my own reproduction where as women in so many countries do not.